Compared to the other two films in Romero's original trilogy (joined by a new trio in the last five short years) it is Day that gets the least praise from fans and critics alike. It's not as revolutionary as Night Of The Living Dead was and lacks the immediate social resonance of Dawn... Still, it's a film that rewards repeated viewing, and while certainly the least commercially viable of the three, it is also the most thought provoking, and in many ways, entertaining.
Where Day... appears to have let people down is in its uncompromisingly nihilistic approach. There is nothing of the fun of Dawn... held over for this picture. From the locations and cinematography to the methods of ghoul dispatch, there is a touch of depression to this movie, no sign of anything resembling hope. Instead, Romero's focus is on the development of his creations. In the first truly progressive film in the series, he explores an idea only prodded at in the Dawn...finale- the living dead have memory, yes, but how can this be exploited? The plot of the movie sees a group of twelve holed up underground in a vaguely alluded-to research mission. The scientists are working away at increasingly risky endeavours while their assigned military keepers are dropping off, a point of contention with their leader-by-default, Captain Rhodes. While Dr. `Frankenstein' Logan toils away at training the zombies, Rhodes' and his men's behaviour begs the question if society is really worth saving at all.
The film is built around a tight group of involving performances by turns frenzied and subdued. Joe Pilato is a fury of constantly simmering discontent, a military man whose frustrations and inadequacies prove lethal to his co-inhabitants. Pilato hams it up in arguably the most memorable role in any of Romero's canon. Support comes from the late Richard Liberty, chewing scenery as the one scientist determined to tame the living dead, with Sherman Howard (or Howard Sherman) as his primary subject and the first (and only?) zombie icon, Bub. Lori Cardille keeps the feminists at bay with the first strong lead in a Romero zombie film, and Anthony Dileo and Gary Klar offer up turns manic and macho respectively. Terry Alexander and Jarlath Conroy entertain as a Caribbean and an Irishman duo living in a Winnebago dubbed The Ritz in the heart of the mine.
By this, his ninth film, Romero was a master of his craft: gone are the editing problems of earlier movies (though the constant energy remains), and his countering of ideas and action is expertly handled. Scenes in which zombies must be collared for research are as tense as anything he's directed, as is a trek through the mines for our outcast heroes. True to form in this period, his writing is as sharp as a tack- the characters' interactions are scripted sufficiently to bolster the many themes of the film.
One thing which I've learned to appreciate over the years is producer's John Harrison's score for the film, which acts as a strong counterweight to the film's gloomy aesthetic- it's dated, yes, but it's also full of rich themes and performs as actual film music, unlike Goblin's superb work on Dawn..., which was simply a prog masterpiece stuffed into a movie.
Savini steps up the gore from Dawn... (though sadly does not star himself), working with a bigger team of professionals. Thriller seems to have had a sizeable influence on the makeup effects here, though Michael Jackson was never seen enjoying as much grue as Romero's carnivorous hordes. The squeamish need not apply, as after 90 minutes of abstinence we are treated to the visual of comeuppance in a baptism of gore. My only complaint concerns the false teeth used on too many of the unlucky dead- a little too kids-at-Hallowe'en for my liking.
Day Of The Dead is not at first an easy watch, particularly in comparison to its joyous, comic-book-in-motion predecessor, but it is a smarter film and can easily hold its own with Dawn... or Martin as a candidate for the director's best work.
It doesn't quite benefit as much from its HD upgrade as Dawn... did on Arrow's Blu-Ray release for that film, but it certainly looks better than their 2005 DVD. The image is free from dirt (save one or two flecks) and grain is absent without sacrificing clarity. The bookending shots of sunny countryside look marvelous, but the majority of the film that's set in the bunker underground isn't much to look at, so the HD isn't, to use the often-favoured term, glorious. No other artifacts are there to observe. Overall, a near spotless transfer of a film that may not have deserved the overhaul (Arrow recently scrapped their planned BD release of Martin due to insufficient source materials).
The sound mix is perfectly fine too, but again, not much to write home about. We're talking Romero, not Bay, so expect plenty or clear dialogue and the odd blast of gunfire. The surround is effective (one scene where an otherwise unheard zombie replies to Alexander's raised voice in the distance chilled me to the core), and the score doesn't overtake the dialogue or SFX. A perfunctory track, then.
The new extras for this edition turn the spotlight on Pilato, in a 50 minute candid interview (fun if familiar anecdotes) and a 17 minute piece following his Q&A Tour in Ireland and Scotland. The Audio Collections Of Richard Liberty and the Wampum Mine promo video on the second disc are taken from the US edition, and this is their first time on UK DVD. The 'The Many Days Of Day Of The Dead' features a decent selection of interviews but only about four cast members show up. More interesting is an ancient onset feature about creature effects. Also included are trailers, galleries, and the effects team commentary from the previous Arrow release.
Anyone that owns the Dawn... BD can expect the same level of quality from this release- the matching packaging features four options for cover art, an interesting essay, a double sided poster and an well-written but averagely-drawn comic inside a kind of windowbox slipcase. Really beautiful and well worth an upgrade, Arrow's latest release confirms their dedication to cult movies and this fan-friendly package is the best release of the movie yet.